If you set aside the politics of the Edward Snowden case, which is a really tough thing to do at a place like Daily Kos, what Snowden did is a run-of-the-mill violation of a non-disclosure agreement.
In December of 2010, a former CIA officer named Jeffrey Alexander Sterling was charged in a 10-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury--charges that mostly focused on violating his NDA.
The indictment charges Sterling with six counts of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, and one count each of unlawful retention of national defense information, mail fraud, unauthorized conveyance of government property and obstruction of justice.Minus the obstruction of justice, this sounds like Snowden's story.
According to the indictment, Sterling was employed by the CIA from May 1993 to January 2002. From November 1998 through May 2000, he was assigned to a classified clandestine operational program designed to conduct intelligence activities related to the weapons capabilities of certain countries, including Country A. During that same time frame, he was also the operations officer assigned to handle a human asset associated with that program. According to the indictment, Sterling was reassigned in May 2000, at which time he was no longer authorized to receive or possess classified documents concerning the program or the individual.http://www.justice.gov/...
In connection with his employment, the indictment alleges that Sterling, who is a lawyer, signed various security, secrecy and non-disclosure agreements in which he agreed never to disclose classified information to unauthorized persons, acknowledged that classified information was the property of the CIA, and also acknowledged that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information could constitute a criminal offense. According to the indictment, these agreements also set forth the proper procedures to follow if Sterling had concerns that the CIA had engaged in any "unlawful or improper" conduct that implicated classified information. These procedures permit such concerns to be addressed while still protecting the classified nature of the information. The media, according to the indictment, was not an authorized party to receive such classified information under such circumstances.
The indictment alleges that Sterling, in retaliation for the CIA’s refusal to settle on terms favorable to him in the civil and administrative claims he was pursuing against the CIA, engaged in a scheme to disclose information concerning the classified operational program and the human asset – first, in connection with a possible newspaper story to be written by an author employed by a national newspaper in early 2003 and, later, in connection with a book published by the author in January 2006.
"The indictment unsealed today alleges that Jeffrey Sterling violated his oath to protect classified information and then obstructed an investigation into his actions. Through his alleged actions, Sterling placed at risk our national security and the life of an individual working on a classified mission," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. "Those who violate the law, and the trust placed in them by the U.S. government to keep our national security information secure, must be held accountable."
"Our national security requires that sensitive information be protected," said U.S. Attorney MacBride. "The law does not allow one person to unilaterally decide to disclose that information to someone not cleared to receive it. Those who handle classified information know the law and must be held accountable when they break it."
I'm not sure what motivates a guy like Edward Snowden to do intelligence-gathering in the first place, since he seems to have a problem with U.S. intelligence-gathering both foreign and domestic, but whatever his motivations to listen in on people in the first place, he did knowingly sign an agreement and then, like Sterling, "violated his oath to protect classified information."
Snowden knew the potential consequences for that choice, including the possibility of facing criminal charges, and he's now fleeing the consequences of that choice.